Art Spiegelman depicts each nationality in his book as a specific animal: Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Poles as pigs. This form of representation shows the absurdity and horror of Nazi ideologies of dividing people into different species. However, the insert Prisoner on Hell Planet differs in style from the rest of the book, depicting actual humans. It is a comic made by Arthur about his mother, Anja, who committed suicide when he was 20. Depicting humans in this episode, the author emphasizes personal issues referring to the main characters’ experience: it is painful memories of Arthur’s family but not of the whole nation. In addition, this style helps to express the emotions and feelings of the characters more vividly.
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The usage of this comic in this particular part of the novel emphasizes the complexity of Arthur’s relationship with his father. Just before the insert, the reader can see that the situation becomes tenser as Arthur does not want to help his father with a roof (Spiegelman 97). Later, talking to the son, Vladek exclaims: “with my life now, you know, it can’t be everything okay”! (Spiegelman 98). To emphasize this tension, even more, the author shows one of the essential parts of their life background.
The comic also provides a better understanding of the characters, and the reader may have more sympathy for Vladek and Arthur. At the same time, it causes aversion to them, depicting Vladek becoming rather mad because of his grief and Arthur blaming his mother that she left him and “murdered” him (Spiegelman 103). However, some negative feelings may be caused more by the style of this fragment. The comic is very dark, and every shadow emphasizes its atmosphere of grief, madness, loneliness. In the fifth panel on page 103, the reader can see a doorway leading to the darkness. It is located just in the center of the page, and it seems that Arthur’s mother comes from this darkness and disappears there later, which correlates with the events of the comic. The second panel of the page is also very emotional. The character is surrounded by the images from his mind. The thoughts that appear in his head are represented without balloons and written with big black letters and exclamation marks. These words are depicted above and put pressure on him, increasing the tension of the episode.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. Penguin Books, 1987.